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As with many areas in publishing, one of the most important aspects of working with freelancers is communication. Publishing teams are increasingly composed of a dynamic mix of in-house and external team members. So the first question is often: how can we get all these people talking to each other in the most efficient way possible? There are many channels available, from video conferencing suites such as Google Meet and Zoom to collaboration hubs like Slack.

Often, a combination of these will work best, with each used for a different purpose. For example, Slack might be a good choice for queries that need a quick answer, whereas face-to-face conference calls could work better to talk through more complex issues and to provide feedback, or for kick-off meetings, regular catch ups and progress updates. It’s worth setting up these channels early in the project and being clear with freelancers about how different types of information and queries should be communicated.

Video conferences can be a great way to create relationships with freelancers on a project, especially if their role extends beyond a single task. Seeing who you will be working with helps to build trust. Another advantage over phone meetings is the ability for anyone on the call to share their screen, which can help to clarify points and issues raised, particularly when working with visual material.

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Another option is to use collaborative documents and spreadsheets. This is especially useful where several freelancers and team members need to have access to – and edit – live documents that will change over time, such as style sheets and project documentation. A useful feature of these software programs is the ability to ‘tag’ other users in comments. This allows freelancers to ask questions and make comments in real time as they work, and for other team members to resolve the queries on a rolling basis, as well as to provide feedback to the freelancer. To activate this feature, you usually type a + or @ sign inside a comment box, followed by the user’s email address or username (see the link above for an example).

There are often a variety of documents required for a freelance task. For an editorial freelancer, for example, these might range from answer keys and audioscripts to photo logs and scope and sequence documents. It will help the freelancer to focus on their main tasks if these documents are well-maintained and easy to access. Unresolved queries from previous stages can make them difficult to work with, so it’s a good idea to keep them as tidy and up-to-date as possible. To prevent flurries of email attachments, it is now common to give freelancers access to shared folders where they can download and upload files. Make sure freelancers are given the right permissions to access these folders, thus avoiding unnecessary delays.

To prevent flurries of email attachments, it is now common to give freelancers access to shared folders where they can download and upload files.

A clear and thorough brief goes a long way towards ensuring that relationships with freelancers run smoothly. In fact this document, along with the supplier contract, usually forms the basis of the relationship. It needs to be unambiguous, precisely defining the responsibilities of the freelancer’s task or their role on a project. Just as important, it sets expectations, including what the freelancer needs to deliver, when and how, and is also an essential document to refer to when providing feedback on the task.

It’s a fact of life in publishing that projects get delayed, and most freelancers will try to accommodate changes to schedules. This is more easily done with as much notice as possible. Having said that, paying freelancers on time is essential – as well as being a sure-fire way to keep them on your side for future collaboration!

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